The Inner Mongolian China Brog

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Can I get an Amen?

With the approach and onset of this year's holiday season, I will admit to feeling the distance from home a little more than I have thus far. I've never been away from home for Christmas in particular, and though I will be lucky enough to spend it with my parents even here in Tongliao, it's certainly still not the same. Moreover, even 4+ months into time here, my situation here continues to evolve...not always to my pleasure. I credit culture shock with at least some of it, if not all, so my own reaction to my recent bouts of funkitude (that's short for "funky attitude," for those of you not fluent in Diana-Speak) and feeling down is to put it all in perspective and try to find something positive on which to focus my energy. My Dad, however, had another suggestion, which he was kind enough to outline in (gratuitous) detail in his latest email to me. I've copied it below, having given in to the fact that whatever I set out to write in my blog today would have certainly paled in comparison to my erudite father's sage advice, so articulately composed as follows:

Hey Keedo,

Sorry for your touch of “holiday blues.” I gather you are over your cold/flu and feeling a lot better since the email below contains no groans or physical complaints.

I started with the idea to provide you with fatherly advice, encouraging you to write more/keep a journal, blah blah, but you know all that stuff. And anyway, I took a look at your more recent blog postings, and you’re certainly continuing in that medium. (Though I notice there is nothing about your fabulous trip to Tokyo!) Note from Diana: Ok, I'm busted, but I'll get to it eventually...

You could edit your blogs into chapters for your new, soon-to-be-published, best-selling, reveal-all, memoirs of your life behind the Iron Curtain (does your generation even know the term?), sacrificing your youth for the benefit of a more literate China.

Another slant might be how you helped bring about China’s worldwide economic superiority, assisting them in their ambition to dominate the world (with their unique “Love Mao/Get Rich by any means” approach) by teaching China’s future leaders and business wo/men how to lure stupid Westerners into a (false) sense of security, since the dumb Americans-in-particular always trust foreigners who can speak perfect English with no accent! You’ll sell millions of copies to rednecks and evangelicals, without doing any damage, because they already believe all that shit anyway.

If you were to repent, convert, and do the “Testimony Circuit” you’d have a living for life. You would, of course, have to bleach and tease your hair, wear lots of dark red lipstick and enough mascara to weight your eyelids down to half-mast, and get yourself a few nice full skirts and crinolines for underneath, but no patent leather shoes, because you never know what nasty little boys will be able to see in the refection. You would spend every day but Sundays and Wednesdays on your bus, emblazoned with your new ID/Logo, “Deeana Deevyne” driving through the South and the Corn Belt, making whistle stops and kissing babies (but no Chinese). You would probably pork up a bit, as fried chicken every Sunday, along with potlucks in the church basements every Sunday and Wednesday night can do that to a girl.

China sound a little better now?

Love, DAD

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Things I Very Like about China

Sometimes I think I complain too much about China. I don't know if that comes through in the blog, but in general, I think there's a lot of bitching that goes on amongst myself and my American counterparts. I don't like to bitch, so I thought I'd take just a moment (or let's be honest, a couple hours) to elucidate some of the finer points of what I'll take with me from my year in Tongliao. Or I could tell the entire truth and admit that the following are interesting tidbits that don't fit under a nice neat heading such as "My trip to Qingdao," or other such nonsense.

One of my favorite things to bitch about, in terms of my job requirements, is what's known as "English Corner." It's an hour and a half in the middle of every Sunday where we are supposed to show up to a nondescript general area of campus and just hang out and wait for any child who might like to come speak a little English during their one free afternoon of the whole week. If you have one eyebrow cocked in skepticism, I don't blame you. In fact, you are wholly justified. Precious few students actually show up. There's a few that are very faithful and will show up wherever they think we'll be hanging out. They're also the ones who are basically fluent. Aside from that handful of high-schoolers, the rest of the kids who show up are often from the primary school, so we end up just playing games like frisbee and Red Rover with them, which incidentally doesn't involve a whole lot of speaking, but whatever. I basically resent having to take the time to show up on what is technically my day off only to humor the same set of kids who may or may not show up in the first place. I mean, it's not really a huge deal - we never plan anything, so it doesn't take any time out of our lives aside from the English Corner itself. It just tends to feel a bit pointless at times, though I'm sure it's pure coincidence that English Corner is timed such that anyone...say, a parent dropping their child back off at school after a Sunday afternoon off campus...would enter the main gate and happen to see us foreigners frolicking gaily with the students by apparent happenstance, because surely there is nothing we'd rather do than nourish these children's minds in every spare moment that we have.

Before you get the wrong idea, however, I should say that some of my more endearing memories of my students have come from English Corner time. As one might imagine, there being proportionately few little girls here (or at least in my 1st and 2nd grade classes), I'm particularly popular with that set. I'm not always sure what it is that they want from me; I humor them as best I can...even if that means to waving hello to the same little girl 5 or 6 times during the 15 minutes I spend eating lunch in the cafeteria during the week. It just never gets old I guess! Some of them are just eager to use whatever English they can, even if it's totally random and out of context. I suppose I should feel proud when one of my students comes up to me, points to their shirt, and says, "Daina! White!" Daina, by the way, is the phonetic spelling of how it sounds when when my students shout my name. Emphasis on the -na. So during English Corner, apart from throwing frisbees and tickling small children, I've been treated to a tour of 4 of my students' dorm room, complete with a hair combing session (leaving me slightly sorrier looking than when I arrived), and even a complete decoration of my person with flowers. A couple girls decided that I would be most beautiful if they stuck as many flowers in my hair as possible, and just for good measure, a nice bouquet springing from my bosom as well. Several stifled giggles from my co-workers did not go unnoticed by me, let me assure you. But who am I to deny my students the pleasure of playing with my super-exotic, wavy, mousy-brown hair?

Admittedly, if moments like those were the only redeeming quality of this job, it would be enough, so I'll take the hi-fives and hugs where I can get them. I'm not sure that the best way to start class every day is to pry a small child's arms from around my waist, but hey, it's cute. It's also better than the alternative, which lately (since Halloween) has been "Daina! Trick or treat!" ("Sorry, I have no candy.") or "Daina! VCD!" ("No, turns out we can't watch movies every day, kids. We'll find Nemo some other time. And by the way, please don't respond, 'KFC' any more when I hold up the flashcard of a chicken.")

Aside from the love I get from the students, my free time is often highlit by experiences of the culinary variety. There's plenty of good food to be had in Tongliao City, and we're doing our best to sample most of it. A wide sampling is hard to achieve, however, when one discovers a favorite place. Now, I still don't know the name of this little hole in the wall we were introduced to by a student in the Number 1 Middle School, but it's AWESOME. The food's dirt cheap, delicious, and listed in English on the menu! This is unprecedented! Ok, I mean, assuming you can get past minor typos such as "cold noodies," "fish-smelling pork," and/or "three street meat," that is. We don't know who did the translating for the boss, who doesn't speak any English, but practically does backflips for us whenever we go in there, which is pretty often. He's an older gentleman, looking a little down at the heels, but full of homestyle sincerity and eagerness to please and make friends with us, which he has. We're not sure what to call him, so our creativity has lead to nicknames (used just among us of course) such as Uncle Bobo (Bobo means uncle in Chinese) and Bobo Loban (Loban meaning boss in Chinese). That's about the best we have come up with. Unfortunately, blogular restrictions do not allow me to demonstrate for you some of his more humorous mannerisms, so I'll have to settle for a description that falls somewhere between Eeyore and Mr. Magoo.

While I wouldn't call the following a repeat experience, necessarily, I thought it worth mentioning that we were also treated to a meal at a dog restaurant recently. Yeah, dog! You didn't think it was true did you? Like that was one of the outlandish things we conjecture about the Chinese and their ability to go all MacGuyver on whatever animal it is that they want to eat, but it's true! There are dog dishes! Whole restaurants, even! And yes, I tried it. Come on, dry your eyes, it's not like I would have saved little Fido from dying by not eating the food put in front of us. I was polite, I tried the dog meat, said buyao xiexie to the dog skin, and filled up on the more normal looking veggies and whatnot. At least I didn't take a doggie bag! ZING! Oh, I should also mention that this meal took place during our lunch break, though apparently that doesn't mean you're supposed to skimp on the booze. So yeah, we returned to school and taught our afternoon classes plastered. I guess you'll know who taught the Chinese kid you meet 10 years down the line who speaks English with a slurred American accent.

In other news, I expect I'll soon be teaching some of the older kids how to dance in the near future. All of us foreigners are required to give a lecture once this semester to all the Chinese English teachers and whoever else wants to come, usually the high-schoolers who have better English. So I gave my speech a couple weeks ago, and not wanting to bore myself or them, decided to talk about what I know best: dance! I gave them sort of a general overview of the styles that are basically indigenous to America, styles I figured that they might not have seen otherwise, and I capped it off by showing them a performance I did with Synergy last spring. I'm pretty sure there were a few wide eyes in the audience, but considering it was kind of a random topic for me to talk about, it was pretty well-received I think. Hence the requests for some dance lessons and curiosity as to whether it was possible for me to teach them to break dance this late in life. The answer to the latter is, in fact, no, but there may just be a few more Chinese booty-shakers 'round herre by the time I leave.

And whaddaya know, it's time for another English Corner! It being a balmy 37 degrees F outside, it'll be a delight.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

ChristmasImeanBirthday List

Yeah. I'm that lazy. You see, what I did was simply change the title of my Christmas list to "Birthday." I don't really have any business asking for anything but money seeing as I will come out of my year in China none the richer, but I'll leave this stuff on the list just for the sake of having a birthday list.

DVDs (because we have nothing better to do here):
  • The OC - Season 1
  • Will and Grace/Full House/Golden Girls/Fresh Prince of Bel-Air...I'm pretty sure all my favorite sitcoms are on DVD now...
  • Any workout DVD that looks like fun

And some Starbucks coffee ground coarse for my french press would be LOVEly.